The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season is finally here, and ESPN's Ryan McGee has a hot-off-the-presses primer with the top 16 drivers to watch in 2018 prior to the Daytona 500.
Biggest mover: Joey Logano jumps nine spots, from 18th to 9th. | Biggest loser: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. falls four spots, from 11th to 15th. | New this month: Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman. | Dropped out: Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch. | Also considered: Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Bob Welborn.
Here's the full rankings:
1. Kyle Busch
Last year: 2 | Top 10s: 22
Since NASCAR introduced its final four postseason format in 2014, Busch has finished in 10th place and has three top-three finishes to go along with a championship. It feels like it's time for him to win another one, doesn't it? And if he does, will he finally be included in the marketing plan?!
Last year: 1 | Top 10s: 26
There's garage buzz that NASCAR tightened up the rulebook pages that Truex exploited to produce one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory. Then again, the garage buzzed all last season with "well, what they were doing won't work anymore," and it still totally worked.
3. Kyle Larson
Last year: 3 | Top 10s: 20
Did he finish top three in 2017? No. Was he one of the top three drivers of 2017? Without a doubt. The only factor that can hold him back in 2018 might be waiting on the new Camaro to get up to speed.
Last year: 5 | Top 10s: 21
BK spent 2017 seemingly always almost ready to get over the hump, but he never quite did. Can his Ford, now easily the oldest of the sport's three models, get enough traction to reach the mountaintop? So far it's batting 1.000.
Last year: 4 | Top 10s: 23
Still think of Stewart-Haas Racing as a new team? SHR's cars are sporting 10th anniversary stickers. Still think of Harvick as a young gun? This is his 18th season in Cup. Life comes at you fast. Or as it says on the side of Happy's car, freaky fast.
Last year: 9 | Top 10s: 11
What we just said about Harvick is likely what Seven-Time thinks during every team meeting at Hendrick Motorsports, when he looks across the table at Alex Bowman, William Byron and ...
Last year: 7 | Top 10s: 21
... this guy, who on any other roster would be considered the 22-year-old kid but at Hendrick is suddenly a crusty old veteran.
8. Denny Hamlin
Last year: 6 | Top 10s: 22
He bested his best average finish for a season (11.6) and equaled career bests for top fives (15) and top 10s (22), but he finished sixth in the standings after a feud with Elliott. If he never wins a Cup title, last fall might end up becoming the illustration of his career.
9. Joey Logano
Last year: 18 | Top 10s: 17
NASCAR has done away with the word "encumbered" to describe what it did to Logano's win at Richmond last year. However, JoLo's feelings about what happened remain unencumbered.
10. Ryan Blaney
Last year: 10 | Top 10s: 14
Blaney has mastered social media and podcasting. After his promotion from Penske affiliate Wood Brothers Racing to actual Penske, the ceiling is the roof. Oh, and he totally agrees with me that people need to chill about Luke Skywalker's force ghosting in "The Last Jedi."
11. Erik Jones
Last year: 19 | Top 10s: 14
Speaking of promotions, Jones moves from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing. But keep in mind that last year the supposed AAA team he just left kicked the collective butts of their big league affiliate.
12. Daniel Suarez
Last year: NR | Top 10s: 12
While we were all watching the battle to see who would make the playoffs, Suarez went from posting only three top 10s in the first 18 races of 2017 to racking up nine over the last 18. That's called a turnaround.
13. Clint Bowyer
Last year: 17 | Top 10s: 13
Not so long ago, I would have easily taken the over on a "Bowyer will win 15 career Cup races" bet and laughed en route to the bank. Well, he has been sitting on eight since 2012.
14. Jamie McMurray
Last year: 12 | Top 10s: 17
Jamie Mac hasn't won since 2013, but his vibe feels the best it has in years, unlike the negative vibe I have when the manager at Mickey D's says, "No, man, we still don't have Egg White Delight McMuffins on the all-day breakfast menu."
Last year: 11 | Top 10s: 9
After Ricky's two 2017 wins, is Roush Fenway Racing back? After a winter of fielding questions about breaking up with Danica Patrick, is his mojo back? After upsetting Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl are his beloved Ole Miss Rebels back?
16. Alex Bowman
Last year: NR | Top 10s: 3
There was an army of youngsters to pick from for this spot, from the Dillons (Ty and Austin) and William Byron to Bubba Wallace and Trevor Bayne. But if a kid wins the pole for the Daytona 500, that kid gets to spend some time in the Power Rankings.